California risks severe ‘whiplash’ from drought to flood: scientists

FILE PHOTO: Waves crash against a sea wall in San Francisco Bay beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, December 16, 2014. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith//File Photo

By Alister Doyle

OSLO (Reuters) – California will suffer more volatile weather this century with a “whiplash” from drought to rain and mounting risks a repeat of the devastating “Great Flood” of 1862, scientists said on Monday.

Climate change, driven by man-made greenhouse gas emissions, would drive more extreme shifts between hot and dry summers and wet winters in the most populous U.S. state, they wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Global warming is making California and other regions with similar Mediterranean-style climates, from southern Europe to parts of Australia, drier and warmer in summer, said lead author Daniel Swain of the University of California, Los Angeles.

In California in winter “an opposing trend toward a strong Pacific jet stream is projected to locally enhance precipitation during the core months of the ‘rainy season’,” he told Reuters.

“Natural precipitation variability in this region is already large, and projected future whiplash increases would amplify existing swings between dry and wet years,” the authors wrote.

They projected “a 25 percent to 100 percent increase in extreme dry-to-wet precipitation events” this century.

California had its worst drought in recorded history from 2010–2016, followed by severe rains and flooding that culminated with evacuation orders for almost 200,000 residents as a precaution near the Oroville Dam last year.

The study said that major urban centers, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, were “more likely than not” to suffer a freak series of storms by 2060 similar to ones in 1861-62 that led to the “Great Flood”.

The storms swamped the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, flooding an area 300 miles (500 km) long and 20 miles wide. Storms washed away bridges, inundated mines and wrecked farms.

FILE PHOTO: 65,000 cfs of water flow through a damaged spillway on the Oroville Dam in Oroville, California, U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Max Whittaker/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: 65,000 cfs of water flow through a damaged spillway on the Oroville Dam in Oroville, California, U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Max Whittaker/File Photo

A repeat “would probably lead to considerable loss of life and economic damages approaching a trillion dollars”, the study said.

As part of planning, Swain said the state should expand use of floodplains that can be deliberately flooded to soak up rains, such as the Yolo Bypass which protects the city of Sacramento.

The study assumes, however, that global greenhouse gas emissions will keep rising, at odds with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement under which almost 200 nations agreed to cut emissions to net zero between 2050 and 2100.

“Such a future can be partially, but not completely, avoided” if the world takes tougher action, Swain said. He noted that existing government pledges to limit warming fall well short of the Paris goals.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who doubts mainstream findings that greenhouse gas emissions are the main cause of warming, plans to quit the deal, saying he wants to promote the U.S. fossil fuel industry.

(Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Alison Williams)

Four dead, one missing as tropical cyclone causes floods in Fiji

FILE PHOTO - A view of floodwater from Tropical Cyclone Josie in Nailaga Village, Ba, Fiji March 31, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. Picture taken March 31, 2018. Naziah Ali via REUTERS

By Alison Bevege

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Floods caused by a tropical cyclone that brought torrential weekend rains to the Pacific island nation of Fiji have killed four people, with another presumed drowned, a disaster management official said on Monday.

Tropical Cyclone Josie, a category-one storm, caused severe flooding, with the northwestern town of Ba on Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu, said to be the worst hit.

FILE PHOTO - A man collects water, after flooding from Tropical Cyclone Josie in Ba, Fiji April 1, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. Naziah Ali via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO – A man collects water, after flooding from Tropical Cyclone Josie in Ba, Fiji April 1, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. Naziah Ali via REUTERS

Four bodies had been retrieved and authorities do not expect that the missing person survived, said Anare Leweniqila, the director of the Fiji National Disaster Management Office.

“The death toll will go to five when we find their body,” he told Reuters by telephone.

He said 1,873 people sheltering in 35 evacuation centers would not be able to return home until mosquito spraying was completed.

“In two to three days people can go home after the clean-up and the vector spraying for diseases in the worst affected areas,” Leweniqila added.

The Fiji Meteorological Service warned of heavy rain expected on Monday afternoon in Fiji and surrounding islands, as Tropical Cyclone Josie moved away in a south-southeast direction.

Leweniqila said the authorities did not envisage any more flooding as the water level was receding even after heavy rain, but that road damage had been extensive.

Up to 74 roads were closed due to flooding.

In February, Fiji escaped without deaths or widespread damage when Gita, a category 4 tropical cyclone, lashed the country with winds of up to 275 km per hour (171 mph).

(Reporting by Alison Bevege; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

2017 second-costliest year on record for natural-disaster insured losses

Cars drive under a partially collapsed utility pole, after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria in September, in Naguabo, Puerto Rico October 20, 2017.

(Reuters) – Insured losses in the private sector and government-sponsored programs from natural disasters came to $134 billion in 2017, making it the second-costliest year on record, broker Aon Benfield said on Wednesday.

Three major hurricanes in the United States and Caribbean alone led to losses of $100 billion in 2017, according to risk modeling agencies and reinsurers.

That compares with losses of about $74 billion caused by Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in 2005.

There were 330 natural catastrophes last year, leading to overall economic losses of $353 billion, of which an “unprecedented” 97 percent were caused by weather-related events, according to Aon’s catastrophe report, making 2017 the costliest year on record for weather disasters.

At $132 billion, 2017 was also the costliest year for insurers for weather disasters, with 60 percent of global insurance payouts in the year caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

Weather losses exclude losses from other natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis.

Wildfires caused $14 billion of insurance losses in 2017 – the highest on record for the peril, Aon said.

California faced wildfires in the northern part of the state that resulted in losses to those insured of more than $9 billion in October. Later in December, a sprawling Southern California wildfire become the largest on record in the state.

Other notable weather events in the year included earthquakes in Mexico, floods and Typhoon Hato in China and drought in Southern Europe.

“The insurance industry was well-positioned to handle the cost of the 2017 disasters. Global reinsurer capital was a record $600 billion at the end of third quarter 2017,” Aon said.

As a result, some reinsurers had been expecting double-digit price rises across the board when the Jan. 1 renewals came around after all of last year’s losses.

In the end, however, global property reinsurance prices rose less than expected, with strong competition limiting increases to single-digit percentages.

German reinsurer Munich Re, said this month that insurers will have to pay claims of around $135 billion for 2017, the most ever, following the spate of hurricanes, earthquakes and fires in North America.

(Reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Carolyn Cohn in London; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Insurers to pay out record $135 billion for 2017 after hurricanes

The company logo of German reinsurer Munich Re is seen before the company's annual news conference in Munich, Germany, March 16, 2016.

By Tom Sims and Alexander Hübner

FRANKFURT/MUNICH (Reuters) – Insurers will have to pay claims of around $135 billion for 2017, the most ever, following a spate of hurricanes, earthquakes and fires in North America, according to a report published on Thursday.

German reinsurer Munich Re , in its annual natural catastrophe review, also said last year’s total losses, including those not insured, were $330 billion, the second-worst in history after 2011 when an earthquake and tsunami wreaked havoc in Japan.

Although individual events could not be linked directly to climate change, global warming is playing a role, Munich Re said. It expected more frequent extreme events in future.

“We have a new normal,” said Ernst Rauch, head of Munich Re’s Corporate Climate Center, which monitors climate change risks.

“2017 was not an outlier,” he said, noting insured losses have surpassed $100 billion multiple times since 2005. “We must have on our radar the trend of new magnitudes.”

Last year’s hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in the United States and Caribbean, wildfires in California and earthquakes in Mexico destroyed homes, infrastructure and numerous lives.

The disasters also rocked global insurers. Munich Re and Hannover Re both issued profit warnings.

That dealt a blow to a sector already struggling with thin margins, stiff competition and falling prices.

Munich Re’s tally for the industry comes on the back of other estimates that underscored the severity of 2017.

In December, Swiss Re estimated global insured losses from catastrophes would hit $136 billion in 2017, the third-highest on record for the sector, with the United States hardest hit. That figure is not directly comparable to Munich Re’s estimates as it includes man-made disasters.

Reinsurers, which are in the business of insuring insurance, are experts in managing risk and rarely get caught off guard. Analysts have said reinsurers may need to take a fresh look at their risk models as the planet warms and storms become more intense.

A big question for the industry has been whether the run of catastrophes would allow them to achieve higher prices for their coverage, which have been in decline for years.

Early indications suggest modest increases. Global property reinsurance prices rose less than expected in the key Jan. 1 renewal season, with strong competition limiting increases to single digit percentages, brokers said this week.

A turnaround in prices would be the first major reversal since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

(Editing by Maria Sheahan and Mark Potter)

Business group pushes for U.S. flood insurance reform as December deadline looms

Business group pushes for U.S. flood insurance reform as December deadline looms

By Ginger Gibson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The latest attempt to overhaul the U.S. federal flood insurance program hit a stumbling block, but a coalition of business and environmental groups renewed their push on Wednesday for lawmakers to enact an overhaul before the program expires on Dec. 8.

The SmarterSafer coalition sent a letter to members of the U.S. House urging passage of the compromise legislation that would extend to 2022 the federal program that has been heavily utilized after vast flooding from hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“This legislative package moves the flood program in the right direction and contains needed reforms that will better protect those in harm’s way, the environment, and taxpayers,” the letter states, according to a copy seen by Reuters.

The hurdle came with the House Rules Committee indefinitely postponed a hearing on the bill that was scheduled for Tuesday night.

“Clearly they’re trying to make sure they’ve got all their ducks in a row and they’ve got all the votes they need,” said Steve Ellis, with the conservative group Taxpayers for Common Sense, which is part of a coalition pushing for reform of the program.

Joshua Saks, the legislative director of the National Wildlife Federation, said one of the shortcomings of the compromise is that it does not ensure that the money for flood mitigation projects will ever be spent.

“We need an Apollo project of mitigation right now, we need billions right now up front,” Saks said, referring to the project that put a man on the moon.

Two prominent Republican members of the U.S. House announced last week they had struck a deal that would extend the life of the program that covers most of the nation’s flood-prone properties.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas brokered the compromise and said the deal helps policy holders and taxpayers.

Last month, President Donald Trump signed a $36.5 billion disaster relief bill, including $16 billion in forgiveness of some debt in the National Flood Insurance Program, which insures about 5 million homes and businesses.

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson. Additional reporting by David Shepardson.)

New York lets neighborhood return to nature to guard against storms

New York lets neighborhood return to nature to guard against storms

By Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Every now and then, Frank and Mary Lettieri come back to visit what used to be their tightly packed Staten Island neighborhood before Superstorm Sandy prompted New York state to let it go back to nature.

The deadly storm, which swamped the New York metropolitan area five years ago and revealed its vulnerability, convinced state officials to offer to buy out homeowners in flood-prone areas, including the Lettieris’ Oakwood Beach neighborhood.

At first, the Lettieris resisted. They had owned their nearly paid-off home since 1987, raised five children in it and spent $138,000 to rebuild after the storm sent a surge over the nearby beach that filled their first floor with seawater.

But eventually, like nearly 80 percent of their fellow Staten Island residents who were offered the same opportunity, they took the deal, part of a New York state program to convert the most vulnerable neighborhoods into uninhabited buffer zones.

“I wish we could have stayed, but we couldn’t,” said Frank, remembering a 1992 storm that also flooded them out. “The writing was on the wall. We had to go.”

Sandy, a late-season hurricane, killed at least 159 people in New York, New Jersey and other parts of the East Coast on Oct. 29, 2012, including a father and son who drowned in the basement of their home next door to the Lettieris. It damaged or destroyed more than 650,000 homes.

Much of the impetus for the home buyout program was an expectation that storms like Sandy will become more common, according to Lisa Bova-Hiatt, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery.

“To say that extreme weather is not our new normal would just be incredibly short-sighted,” she said.

Rising sea levels will increase the average number of storms that flood New York City with surges of at least 7.4 feet (2.3 m) to once every five years by 2030 from once every 500 years before 1800, according to a Rutgers University study published on Tuesday.

BUFFER ZONE

Using money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, New York has spent $255 million to buy 654 properties, mostly in Staten Island, with 83 more in the pipeline, the Office of Storm Recovery said.

“The program is voluntary,” said Bova-Hiatt. “However, at some point it would be fantastic to have the entire area as a buffer zone.”

Bova-Hiatt, herself a Staten Island resident, said the state will never use its power of eminent domain to force out the Staten Islanders who declined buyout offers for 142 properties and can no longer accept them because the program has ended.

But she declined to predict whether New York City would seize property for a planned seawall to protect 5.5 miles (8.9 km) of Staten Island’s east coast.

New Jersey also has a buyout program, having spent $110 million from the federal government to buy 520 properties in areas that were hit by Sandy-related flooding, according to the State Department of Environmental Protection.

Two residents of Staten Island’s Oakwood Beach section who declined to sell are Gregory and Olga Epshteyn. Their two-story home is among 88 that the state failed to acquire out of the 402 in the neighborhood that were eligible.

“This is the best place on Staten Island to live,” said Gregory, adding that the city still diligently provides services, such as garbage pickup and street lights.

“We love it here, but we miss our neighbors,” Olga added.

The Epshteyns’ home now has plenty of open space around it as Oakwood Beach and two other storm-ravaged sections of Staten Island return to their natural states.

Most of the bungalows, townhouses and other modest homes that lined the neighborhood’s narrow streets have been torn down and covered over with grass that the state maintains.

On a recent visit, the Lettieris, both retired, said they missed Oakwood Beach, but did not regret their decision to take the state’s offer and move to higher ground about a mile (1.6 km) away.

Former residents often come back on the anniversary of Sandy and many are expected to visit on this Sunday’s five-year mark.

Yuriy Domashov recently moved to the edge of Oakwood Beach after taking the state buyout for his oceanfront townhouse in another flood-prone area a few miles up the beach.

“For all my life I was connected to the water,” said Domashov, a veteran of the Soviet navy, as he walked his dog near the beach.

Having survived the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and an ordeal aboard his submarine, Domashov said he does not worry about another storm of the century.

“Once in 100 years, I believe, is good enough for me,” said Domashov, who is 75.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Vietnam braces for typhoon Khanun after floods kill 72

A boy paddles a boat past a flooded village's gate after a heavy rain caused by a tropical depression in Hanoi, Vietnam October 16, 2017.

HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam braced for typhoon Khanun on Monday after destructive floods battered the country’s north and center last week, killing 72 people, the disaster prevention agency said.

Last week’s floods were the worst in years, the government and state-run Vietnam Television said, with thousands of homes submerged. Another 200 houses collapsed and several towns remain cut off by the floodwater.

The floods also damaged more than 22,000 hectares (54,300 acres) of rice.

Farmers harvest rice on a flooded field after a heavy rainfall caused by a tropical depression in Ninh Binh province, Vietnam October 14, 2017.

Farmers harvest rice on a flooded field after a heavy rainfall caused by a tropical depression in Ninh Binh province, Vietnam October 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

Vietnam is the world’s third-largest exporter of rice and the second-biggest producer of coffee, although the floods have not affected the Southeast Asian nation’s coffee belt.

Eighteen people from the hardest-hit province of Hoa Binh in the north were buried by a landslide, but only thirteen bodies have been found, Vietnam’s disaster agency said.

The government has said it is fixing dykes, dams and roads damaged by last week’s flood and is preparing for typhoon Khanun, which is expected to cause heavy rain in northern and central Vietnam from Monday.

It has also warned ships and boats to avoid the approaching typhoon.

Vietnam is prone to destructive storms and flooding due to its long coastline. A typhoon wreaked havoc across central provinces last month.

Floods have also affected nine out of 77 provinces in Thailand, Vietnam’s neighbor to the west. Three people had been killed in flooding since last Tuesday, Thailand’s disaster agency said on Monday.

The Thai capital, Bangkok, was hit by heavy rain at the weekend, with gridlocked traffic bringing parts of the city to a standstill. Bangkok has often been described as the “Venice of the East” because of its many waterways.

However, the floods prompted criticism of Bangkok’s city government, with some social media users accusing authorities of not managing water levels in canals properly.

The city government defended itself, saying it was working closely with the irrigation department. Thailand suffered its worst flood in five decades in 2011, with hundreds of people killed, industrial estates engulfed and key industries crippled.

 

(Reporting by Mai Nguyen in HANOI; Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat in BANGKOK; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Paul Tait)

 

Death toll from worst Vietnam floods in years rises to 54

Death toll from worst Vietnam floods in years rises to 54

HANOI (Reuters) – At least 54 people died and 39 went missing as destructive floods battered northern and central Vietnam this week, the disaster prevention agency said on Friday.

Vietnam is prone to destructive storms and flooding due to its long coastline. A typhoon wrecked havoc across central provinces just last month.

The floods that hit Vietnam this week starting on Monday are the worst in years, state-run Vietnam Television quoted agriculture minister Nguyen Xuan Cuong as saying.

Nineteen people from four neighboring households in Hoa Binh were buried alive early on Thursday after a landslide struck around midnight on Wednesday, but only nine bodies have been found, the disaster agency said in a report.

Some 317 homes have collapsed in floods and landslides this week, while more than 34,000 other houses have been submerged or damaged.

More than 22,000 hectares (54,300 acres) of rice have also been damaged and around 180,000 animals killed or washed away.

Floods have also affected seven of 77 provinces in Thailand, Vietnam’s neighbor to the west, that country’s Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said on Thursday.

More than 480,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) of agricultural land Thailand have been hit, the department said.

A couple watches TV in their flooded house after a tropical depression in Hanoi, Vietnam October 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

A couple watches TV in their flooded house after a tropical depression in Hanoi, Vietnam October 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

(Reporting by Mi Nguyen; Editing by Tom Hogue)

Thousands evacuated in Vietnam as floods, landslides kill 46

Thousands evacuated in Vietnam as floods, landslides kill 46

By Mai Nguyen

HANOI (Reuters) – Heavy rain in northern and central Vietnam triggered floods and landslides that killed 46 people and 33 people were missing in the worst such disaster in years, the search and rescue committee said on Thursday.

Vietnam often suffers destructive storms and floods due to its long coastline. More than 200 people were killed in storms last year.

“In the past 10 years, we haven’t suffered from such severe and intense floods,” state-run Vietnam Television quoted agriculture minister Nguyen Xuan Cuong as saying.

A typhoon tore a destructive path across central Vietnam just last month, flooding and damaging homes and knocking out power lines.

The latest floods hit Vietnam on Monday.

“Our entire village has had sleepless nights…it’s impossible to fight against this water, it’s the strongest in years,” a resident in northwestern Hoa Binh province was quoted by VTV as saying.

Vietnam’s Central Steering Committee for Natural Disaster Prevention and Control said authorities were discharging water from dams to control water levels.

Some 317 homes had collapsed, while more than 34,000 other houses were submerged or had been damaged.

Earlier reports said more than 8,000 hectares (19,800 acres) of rice had been damaged and around 40,000 animals were killed or washed away.

Hoa Binh province in the northwest declared a state of emergency and opened eight gates to discharge water at Hoa Binh dam, Vietnam’s largest hydroelectric dam, the first time it has done so in years, VTV reported.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc visited northern Ninh Binh province where water levels in the Hoang Long river are their highest since 1985.

Rising sea levels are also threatening Vietnam’s more than 3,260 km (2,000 mile) coastline, resulting in increased flooding of low lying coastal regions, erosion and salt water intrusion.

Floods have also affected seven of 77 provinces in Thailand, Vietnam’s neighbor to the west, the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said on Thursday. More than 480,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) of agricultural land have been hit, the department said.

Thailand is the world’s second-biggest exporter of rice.

“It is still too soon to tell whether there will be damage to rice crops because most of the rice has already been harvested,” Charoen Laothamatas, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, told Reuters.

In 2011, Thailand was hit by its worst flooding in half a century. The floods killed hundreds and crippled industry, including the country’s key automotive sector.

(Additional reporting by Mi Nguyen in HANOI and; Suphanida Thakral in BANGKOK; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Neil Fullick and Nick Macfie)

With fuel and water scarce, Puerto Rico presses for shipping waiver

FILE PHOTO: People queue to fill container with gasoline in a gas station after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico September 24, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo

By Robin Respaut and Scott DiSavino

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico/NEW YORK (Reuters) – As Puerto Rico struggles with a lack of fuel, water and medical supplies following the devastation of Hurricane Maria, it is pressing the Trump administration to lift a prohibition on foreign ships delivering supplies from the U.S. mainland.

The island’s governor is pushing for the federal government to temporarily waive the Jones Act, a law requiring that all goods shipped between U.S. ports be carried by U.S. owned-and-operated ships. President Donald Trump’s administration has so far not granted his request.

“We’re thinking about that,” Trump told reporters when asked about lifting the Jones Act restrictions on Wednesday. “But we have a lot of shippers and …. a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted, and we have a lot of ships out there right now.”

Many of the U.S. territory’s 3.4 million inhabitants are queuing for scarce supplies of gas and diesel to run generators as the island’s electrical grid remains crippled a week after Maria hit. Government-supplied water trucks have been mobbed.

Puerto Rico gets most of its fuel by ship from the United States, but one of its two main ports is closed and the other is operating only during the daytime.

“We expect them to waive it (the Jones Act),” Governor Ricardo Rossello told CNN on Wednesday, noting there was a brief waiver issued after Hurricane Irma, which was much less devastating as it grazed past the island en route for Florida earlier this month.

Members of Congress from both parties have supported an emergency waiver, he said.

The U.S. government has issued periodic Jones Act waivers following severe storms in the past, to allow the use of cheaper or more readily available foreign-flagged ships.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which waived the law after Irma and after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in August, said on Wednesday it was considering a request by members of Congress for a waiver, but had not received any formal requests from shippers or other branches of the federal government.

Gregory Moore, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, an office of Homeland Security, said in a statement on Tuesday that an agency assessment showed there was “sufficient capacity” of U.S.-flagged vessels to move commodities to Puerto Rico.

“The limitation is going to be port capacity to offload and transit, not vessel availability,” he said.

LACK OF WATER, FUEL

Maria, the most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years, caused widespread flooding and damage to homes and infrastructure.

Residents are scrambling to find clean water, with experts concerned about a looming public health crisis posed by the damaged water system.

On Tuesday, hundreds of people crowded around a government water tanker in the northeastern municipality of Canovanas with containers of every size and shape after a wait that for many had lasted days.

Some residents also waited hours for gasoline and diesel to fuel their automobile tanks and power generators to light their homes.

U.S. Air Force Colonel Michael Valle, on hand for relief efforts in San Juan, said he was most concerned about “the level of desperation” that could arise if fuel distribution did not return to normal within a couple of weeks.

In Washington, Republican leaders who control both chambers of Congress have said they are prepared to boost disaster funding, but are waiting for a detailed request from the Trump administration.

In the meantime, the administration still has $5 billion in aid in a disaster relief fund, and Congress has also approved about $7 billion more that will become available on Oct. 1.

(Reporting by Robin Respaut in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Scott DiSavino in New York; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Richard Cowan, Timothy Gardner and Jeff Mason in Washington; Writing by Bill Rigby; Editing by Frances Kerry and Lisa Shumaker)